Let National Storytelling Week inspire you to share your business's story...
If you’ve ever watched the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, what’s your favourite element of the show?
For me, the most compelling part of the whole format is hearing the stories of the people behind the ideas; the small business founders who are prepared to enter the den and brave the prospect of ridicule or derision, in order to keep their dream alive.
Sometimes these people are serial entrepreneurs with a solid business plan and an even more solid composure. More often, they are ordinary people with a quivering voice but a strong vision, who may be driven more by passion than profit (or even proficiency).
Storytelling is the ultimate marketing strategy
For many years now, marketers have seen the value of storytelling in connecting brands with their target audiences. Appealing to consumers’ interests, aspirations and even vanity will go a long way towards selling products. But fancy adverts can only take you so far. Sharing the true story behind your business and your ambitions – the highs and lows, the strength and the vulnerability – can be the most effective way to show your customers that you share their values and concerns.
How can small businesses use storytelling to connect with audiences?
First of all, you have a fantastic tool in your small business blog. From short, snappy insights to long essays, you can share your day-to-day news and thoughts directly with your existing and potential customers. It’s also a great place to build the personality of your brand, through telling your story.
How does the story of your business, product or service chime with the needs and experiences of your customers?
Why did you start your business? What problem does your product or service solve and how did you discover the solution? What has been the high point of your journey so far? What has been the biggest challenge?
If you’re a working mum who provides products or services that support family life, say so. By talking about your own experiences dealing with the everyday battles that many families face, you’ll build trust and recognition of your expertise.
If you’re a tradesperson who has developed a tool to make your job easier, tell your audience about that thought process. When they know that this product was developed by someone who has done the same job as them for years, they’re more likely to trust your opinion that they need this tool!
Perhaps you’ve started a new business after being made redundant, or after finding that your former profession was hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. It may make you feel vulnerable to admit that things haven’t always been plain sailing in your life. But many people can relate to that situation right now and may be inspired by seeing others bounce back from adversity, especially when the path to their current business hasn’t been all that straight or narrow.
Sometimes we all need a reset, or a change of direction, which can feel as if we’ve failed. But sharing our stories with others can be inspirational in ways we can’t necessarily imagine.
It’s about time that I led by example, so here goes.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
When I was a child, I wanted to be one of three things: a vet, an archaeologist or a writer. By the time I finished school, I was so confused about my ambitions that I couldn’t choose any one of them. So, I didn’t go to university – I started work at 17, in office administration.
A walk on the wild side
One day, I saw a newspaper job advert for a trainee zookeeper and all my childhood dreams of working with animals came flooding back. For the next few years, I had an amazing time taking care of exotic animals, while playing my part in breeding programmes for endangered species and helping to raise money to support wildlife conservation. It was a pretty wild ride that offered some unforgettable experiences, as well as a City & Guilds qualification that could have taken me forward into an animal management career.
However, eventually I came to the conclusion that animal care was not the career for me. There were three main reasons for this. The first was that my health was suffering from the consequences of working outdoors in all weathers, along with subjecting my skin to water and bleach all day long.
The second reason was that animal care is a true vocation – which is shorthand for the fact that it doesn’t generally pay well. As much as I wanted to support a good cause, I also wanted to have a certain lifestyle, which meant earning a certain salary. For a while I felt bad about that, before realising that it was nothing to be ashamed of. It simply meant I needed to step aside and make room for someone whose vocation it was.
(The third reason was that, after caring for the penguins for a while, I was really fed up with smelling like fish.)
Finding the write career at last
A few years later, after working in scientific fields related to nature and the environment, I opened a newspaper one day and noticed another advert. (Have you noticed the role that newspapers are playing in this story?)
The advert read: Do you want to be a journalist?
In that moment, I knew that yes, I absolutely did.
It was an advert placed by the National Council for the Training of Journalists, for their correspondence foundation course. A year later, I was given my first job as a trainee local newspaper reporter.
Now, with 16 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine journalism under my belt – including several editorships – I’ve discovered that what I enjoy most of all is telling stories. Not mine, but the stories of my clients. These are small businesses who have something incredible to share with the world; people who just need a little help getting the words right.
Writing a blog for your small business is a fantastic way to share your story – your vision, your dreams, your highs and lows – and build a connection with the audience that shares your values.
So, my message to you in National Storytelling Week is this: people want to hear your story, so share it, loud and proud!